In Septemeber 2008, I traveled 6000 miles to Haiti's Kenscoff mountains. My mission: to care for some of the orphaned and abandoned, the sick, malnourished and premature infants of this beautiful but beleagured Caribbean nation.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Re-entry anxiety?

No-one told me before I left Scotland that first time, that when I returned, I would be changed. Forever.

I don't think that knowing this would have or could have softened the grief I experienced when I re-entered the land of my birth and realised that I was so different, and everything around me was just the same as I had left it. Everything grated on me. The supermarket shelves were piled high. So much choice and so much waste, while half the world starved.

Few people could grasp my new perspective and I was unable to affect theirs. But then, my feet had tread across a land theirs had not. My eyes had watched the sun relentlessly pierce the land. Seen the crops droop, sag, then become dry. Then brittle. My eyes had looked upon crumbling hovels and bare-footed, pot-bellied, listless children. Poverty and hunger were statistics to the western world. To me, they had faces. They were moving, breathing, living, loving, weeping entities.

It had taken me just 18 years to find my life’s purpose; in 2000, I spent 12 months at a South African orphanage. Within days of setting foot on the God's Golden Acre's ramshackle farm property, I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

Then, I returned to a world where bored teenagers binge drank themselves into a stupor every weekend. One night, in Africa, I had lifted a bottle of cider. If the alarmed countenances of my African children were not enough to stop me from drinking it there and then, their disclosures were. In their culture, two sets of people drank: men and loose women. The children knew I did not fall into one of those categories. They hoped I didn't fall into the other.

A 6 year old girl told me how her drunk mother had once vomited over her infant son while he suckled at her breast. Another time, her mother threatened to kill both children. The girl, then aged 4, scooped up the crying infant and ran with him out of the door of their mud hut. With the inebriated mother in pursuit, the little girl ran until her lungs burned and unshod feet bled and her legs turned to jelly. She and the baby spent that night in a field of sugar cane.

There had been no-one to bathe or dress the cuts made by the razor sharp sugar cane leaves that night. Perhaps that was why the little girl had decided, within days of my arrival at the orphanage's farm property, that she would be a nurse. Why it meant so much to her that I had come with my little green First Aid bag to patch the children's bumps and scrapes. A dozen pairs of dark eyes were resting on me with hope, fear, expectation as she recounted her story. I set the cider bottle down and vowed never to drink again.

I was a misfit in Scotland. While other teenagers partied, I had my nose in nursing journals. There was so much work to be done. I had to prepare myself to do do so much more in the the developing world.

Many European kids dreamed of owning designer clothes, luxury homes and fast cars. Their dreams were empty to me. While other girls coiffed their hair and touched up their make-up, I scrapped my hair off my face and prepared to live out a dream that to must have seemed like a night-mare to most.

I was going back to a stricken continent. To live (at best) in a cinder block house that might be served with running water, sometimes. I was going there to nurse babies with AIDS. I would love and hug children whose bodies were riddled by tuberculosis, ring-worm and fungating, oozing sores. I would have very little and I would be so glad. I would appreciate the roof over my head; it would shield me from the winter winds and the torrential rains in summer. I would rejoice every time the rains sprinkled down in time to bring the maize seeds out of hibernation, and turn the hills and valleys and the veldt a riotous and defiant green. I would pray they did not come too soon, and rot the tender shoots. Or too late and dent the earth's fragile crust, flooding the land.

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